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Decorating your Coffee Shop

For seven years I ran a cigar and coffee lounge for a small business owner. We started out primarily as a cigar shop but over the years found that pairing a great cup of coffee with a fine tobacco product gave our customers great pleasure and kept them coming back. That being said ambiance is a huge factor in customer retention and is one of the three keys to success. The other two are product and price.

Assuming that you already have a store in place with top notch coffee, professional equipment and reasonable, competitive prices your décor is going to play a huge role in shaping your future. What sort of vibe do you want to give off? Is there any local flavor that you can add to your shop that will distinguish it from the chains? Do you want people to feel cozy or are you shooting for a sleeker, stylish place for hipster types? The best way to understand what to do next is to have a mission statement. Why are you in business? How do you want people to view your shop? Mission statements help you figure out who you are and establish a vision for the businesses future.

Assuming that you can answer these questions your next goal is to find out what works and what doesn’t. If you’re going for a cozy retreat you might think about avoiding superfluous posters and advertisements. It’s not intimate or comfortable when you sit down in a nice leather chair with a hot cup of Costa Rican and you see some pseudo-exotic poster in French that the owner bought at Target. Go for originality while keeping in mind that most people don’t identify with the eclectic nuance of, say, Bauhaus-inspired neo-objectivism. Don’t complicate things. If cozy is your style then go for overstuffed leather couches, natural wooden tables and earth tone paints, perhaps with a pleasant accent of blue on a wall or two. If you have any molding or baseboards painting them an eggshell white is a nice contrast but not necessary. Think about what makes you comfortable and then apply that to your shop (this is assuming that your idea of comfort is relatively normal).

If you are going for a Parisian motif then plants in terracotta pots, chalk boards and bright art work are going to be preferred. Just remember, many people take this approach so try to do something unique. When I was in Paris one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the coffee shops were their proximity to the street for that favorite Parisian pastime of people watching. Most coffee shops in the United States cannot recreate this simply because their locations do not allow for it. So if French is your style then be aware that most of your work will rest largely on your own personal understanding of their culture. This is a tough one to pull off, at least authentically.

One of Europe’s unsung heroes in the realm of the coffee world is Vienna. Having recently been there I can tell you that they take their coffee seriously. Their style is difficult to replicate because many of the coffee houses are over a century old. They mix marble floors with brass railings, rough iron tables and leather-padded chairs. It’s a beautiful thing to sit and sip their exquisite coffee but the traditional materials used are quite expensive here. My advice would be to incorporate nice ceramic tiles on the floor, a soap stone or (if you can afford it) marble coffee counter and prep area and brass fixtures. I caution you against granite if you do not trust your employees to properly clean it. Soap stone is nice and won’t cost you a fortune but can give you that marble look.

If industrial is more your style then sleek stainless steel is your new best friend. Steel tables are popular, especially patterned ones that businesses like Chipotle use. For counter tops I’d recommend a poured concrete finished with a color-changing acid. Be warned that this style is cold, austere and often misinterpreted.

Earlier I mentioned local color and culture and I’d like to address that now. Remember that the shop is for your customers, not you. If you love the American Southwest and want to incorporate that style into your store just keep in mind that style doesn’t always transcend boarders and boundaries. Southwestern style works in Scottsdale but may be off-putting In Portland. Find some pieces, whether they be art, furniture or color patterns that are popular in your area and incorporate them into your store. Make it unique enough to be proud of but just normal enough for your customers to enjoy. It’s easier than it sounds, really.

Pendant lighting has been popular for years but I feel like it is somewhat dated. That’s my personal opinion and I know that many people would disagree but I feel that if you want your design to be relevant in five years you should consider what trends that are at the end of their run.

If you choose to skip tile for your flooring you can find a nice laminate hardwood. It’s durable and spilled coffee won’t ruin it. Obviously carpet is out of the question. The backsplash that you choose for behind the coffee counter is where you can really tie your style together. In Vienna they use a mirrored backsplash which helps brighten up the room and showcase the beautiful brass that adorns much of the shop. French contemporary may require a muted, earth tone tile. Industrial can be warmed up with a blue-green glass tile backsplash. It’s all a matter of what you want to spend and how much effort you want to put into the place. If you’re only looking for decorating tips then you need to spend the lion’s share of your budget on furniture. Ikea has great pieces, as does Value City. If you feel like spending much, much more you can visit West Elm or CB2.

One of the few cheap decorations that you can invest in is a great menu board. Think of it as an opportunity to let your customers see both your traditional take on a coffee shop and your creative flare. The board should be simple, straightforward and reflect the very best that your shop has to offer. Don’t try to get too clever. Legible typeface, clear distinction between product and price and proper placement of your menu will help your employees avoid having to explain everything to a questioning customer.

Last and absolutely not least is your bathroom. The bathroom décor should match the store. French style would dictate that you have perhaps a wall sconce or votive holder, beige walls and simple white sink and toilet. If your bathroom is messy, dirty, or just unappealing don’t expect people to make a return visit to your shop. When I go somewhere new I use the bathroom first. That is a business’s most vulnerable area and if they fail to keep it clean then I assume that they are lax in other parts of their store.

Above all else make sure that the store strikes a balance between style, functionality, local color and your own taste. Make it a place that people want to frequent and you’ll find that they do.